Chris looks up from his phone to Josh, his best friend, partner in crime, really really irritated best man. He shrugs helplessly, nearly knocking the controller to the floor. It had been his second time pausing their game in order to text Ashley.
They were in Josh's room, flat screen stilled as a character remains frozen in midair. The room vaguely smells like old cigarettes and mangoes courtesy of Beth.
Josh stares at him, lips pursed, leaning against the knees of his folded legs with an annoyed look. He glares at Chris' phone when it dings for the fifth time in the past 8 minutes.
"Fuck, Chris. I just want to beat this level and you're too busy trying to bone someone you can't even talk to in person without stuttering."
Chris opens his mouth to defend himself, because he can talk to Ashley without stuttering; he just has to get past all the blushing first and how she always smells so good. Coupled with the fact that Ashley wasn't attracted to him, it was actually a lot easier to talk to her. Josh waves a hand frantically in front of Chris' face, making noises of disapproval.
"Dude, just go talk to her. I'll put on a movie." Josh mumbles grumpily, sliding off his bed with a frown. He gestures to the bedroom door when Chris doesn't move, only gaping at Josh.
"Go." Josh turns his back to him, eying the massive collection of movies situated underneath the mounted TV. He studies the movies until Chris gets off the bed with a sigh, following Josh's orders. Chris notices Josh's tense shoulders relax, staring at the movies with a worn expression, as he closes the door behind him.
Chris hurries down a short flight of steps, easing into the second story hallway of the Washington home. Music thumps loudly down the hall. He presses call over Ashley's picture. She answers after one ring.
"Hey! I thought you were at Josh's?" There's a smile in her voice.
"He kicked me out to call you. I was messing up his game mood." Chris tells her, sitting on the bottom step. "What's up, hot momma?"
"Disgusting." Ashley giggles. "I just wanted to make sure you were coming to my parent's bonfire this weekend. Because if you can't I have to make up this whole elaborate lie about how you died in a fire."
Chris smiles to himself. "I'll be there. You can count on me to be your fake boyfriend."
The music down the hall turns into an alarmingly loud bass as the door opens. Chris cranes his neck, ears assaulted by the music. Sam and Beth are leaving Beth's room, Sam smoothing out her shirt as Beth tucks her rumpled hair into a beanie. They both notice him, unanimous blushes spreading across their faces.
Beth closes the bedroom door, the loud music dulling to a shaky buzz. She opens her mouth to speak but Sam stops her, gesturing wildly with her eyes. They communicate with no words, Chris confused by the exchanged as Ashley continues to talk in his ear.
Beth takes Sam's hand, winking at Chris and they're disappearing down the main hallway to the stair case. Chris whistles.
"Chris? Are you there?"
"U-Um, yeah I'll be there. For sure. I'll come. To your party, yeah."
Ashley sighs, relieved. "Okay. I'll let you go. See you this weekend?"
"Yeah." Chris agrees easily, pulse racing when Ashley tells him 'bye'. He hangs up, processing over the current events. Beth and Sam were... something, which explained a lot. Chris scrunches his face up, painfully remembering his crush on Beth during middle school. Beth and Sam were something. He wonders if Josh knew.
Chris heads back up the stairs to Josh's room, wrinkling his nose up at the smell of a freshly lit cigarette. Josh is sitting in the frame of an open window, legs dangling over the side. The title screen for Fight Club is on the TV. Chris notices the disarray of the movies inside the large display case as if someone knocked them over. Discs were lying at the bottom, open cases wedged against the glass doors.
"You okay, man?"
Josh nods his head, back still to Chris. He shifts slightly, hooking a leg inside, cigarette dangling from center of his mouth. Josh looks at him, grinning widely as he inhales. Chris watches the end burn and sizzle red, thin lines of smoke swirling.
"Yeah. I'm great. How'd it go?"
"Pretty okay. I've been invited to a bonfire."
Josh nods. "Nice, nice. You're coming up in the world, my friend. Soon you'll be tripping your way into the bone zone."
Chris adjusts his glasses, pouting when Josh laughs at his face, gesturing to his red cheeks. Josh blows out a thick wad of smoke, curling it around his tongue until it vaguely looks like thick, perfectly formed bubble. Chris watches the entire thing, impressed and transfixed. Josh digs the bud into the frame of the window, waving his creation away with little thought.
"Have you thought about it?"
Chris forces himself to look up from Josh's mouth, ignoring the smirk that curls up afterwards. Chris shakes his head, shrugging with awkward hand motions.
"The mountain. You said you'd come with this year because Sam is coming and so is Mike, believe it or not. My parents are letting us use the basement, the basement, Cochise! All for us. You said you'd come."
Chris suddenly remembers. The last three weeks of summer vacation hitting into the side of his brain with startling clarity. Chris' mouth drops open, fighting back a groan as it all comes back to him. Josh had invited Chris to Mt. Washington, to Blackwood, because Chris had never been since they've known each other despite being "bro number 1, Cochise" and they were leaving this weekend, the last weekend before summer was over, aka the weekend of Ashley's bonfire.
Chris almost punches himself if the face. Josh looks at him expectantly, eyes bright and there's a familiar level of contentment in his smile.
"Yeah, man. I'm definitely coming." Chris forces a smile, trying to figure out how to fix this mess he's thrusted upon himself. He did promise Josh first, but Ashley. Ashley needed his help so her parents would let up. Chris realizes he can't do both.
Josh claps him on the shoulder, smile only growing wider with each passing second as if he's forgiven Chris for all his annoying Ashley talk the past four months. But it was Josh's fault, he was so insistent in getting Chris laid that he latched on to any girl's first sign of interest. Ashley was more or less forced into talking to Chris by Josh. But it seemed that Josh figured it'd be quick and they'd never talk again.
That was four months ago. Chris was still a virgin and he was still talking to Ashley. Which wasn't either of their faults considering Ashley was playing the other field while Chris studiously sat in his world of self repulsed desires, desire one being Josh Washington. Plus he liked Ashley, a lot.
"Good talk, man. Let's watch this thing."
Josh hops on his bed, body bouncing slightly with the mattress. Chris joins him, nervous and panicky because he told Ashley he'd go, but he also told Josh he'd go. He folds his arms across his chest, leaning against Josh's bed frame as he tries to focus on the movie. But it's hard, especially when Josh keeps leaning close to him and talking low in his ear.
"Dude, are you paying attention?" There's a fucking grin on Josh's face as if he knows how much his actions are bothering Chris. Chris mumbles out an affirmative, glad that Josh turns his attention back to the movie so he can actually breathe. Chris thinks of his dog, Juniper, his missing leg, smothered in a thick black mane and the thump in his chest settles down. He hasn't paid attention to most of the movie, entirely absorbed in his thoughts of how to break the news to his best friend without Josh killing him.
Chris jumps when Josh's head presses into his shoulder. He tries to ease Josh down on the bed but it only makes it worse and Josh's head ends up in Chris' lap, lips parted and soft. Chris' face heats up, hyper aware of every point of contact. When he moves, Josh moves. Chris gives up, settling in his designated spot as cushion. He fights away the blush, thinking of his grandma in short shorts or Sam's mom and dad making out in the driveway while sitting in their car. It helps. It allows him to watch the remainder of the movie somewhat comfortably. He texts Ashley throughout, scratching the hair on Josh's neck when the other becomes restless in his sleep.
From: Lava Cakes
I'm excited you're coming!
Yeah! Me too.
Had to let Josh down easy.
Chris peeks down at Josh, whose still sleeping in his lap, body curled up against the pillows.
From: Lava Cakes
You had plans already?!
Oh my god. I'm sorry.
I can say you died!
Chris shakes his head. Josh would understand. He'd be proud even, considering this is probably something they'd have to do for prom later this year with Beth and Sam.
It's fine. I'm looking forward to it.
From: Lava Cakes
You're the best.
Josh's head presses into the chub of Chris stomach, smiling sleepily. Chris' heart flutters at the sight, palms clammy. Chris sits through the entire roll of credits, enjoying the moment of quiet as he continues texting Ashley because she's a good distraction. Josh stirs against him, tensing up before he shoots up, knocking into Chris' phone with a groan. The phone flies, clattering to the floor.
Chris cringes. Josh rubbing his forehead with an apologetic whine. His other hand is pressing into Chris' upper thigh.
"Your phone flew, bro." Josh announces, voice slurred and drowsy. "'m sorry."
Chris is currently more concerned with the hand on his leg, staring at it intently. Josh notices before snapping his hand up, accidentally smacking Chris in the nose, both arms raised up high and he's frantically moving away. Chris groans, cupping his nose with both hands as Josh stumbles off the bed with the grace of a small dog, sprawling on the floor with a loud thud. Chris winces, climbing furiously to see if his friend is okay. Josh rubs the back of his head.
"No homo." He mutters weakly and Chris throws a pillow down at him.
"Fucking dick, man."
Josh laughs up at him, holding the pillow close to his chest as he rolls onto his stomach, swaying to his feet. The door to Josh's room swings open, Hannah standing with a green face mask on. Her hair is tied back, eyes wide, glasses crooked. She takes in their appearance and sighs heavily.
"I thought Josh fell out the window again."
Josh straightens, embarrassed. "That was one time, Han. Why- why are even up here?!"
"I just told you, stupid!" Hannah huffs, clearly annoyed. "Fine, next time fall out the window for all I care."
She moves to storm out before pausing. "And go take your meds, dumbass. It's past seven and I know you haven't yet. You're lucky Beth didn't find out."
Josh mimics her tone, throwing the pillow in his hands at her. It barely reaches the door. Beth's bellowing yell piercing the house shortly afterwards. Josh pales and Hannah smirks, sending a sympathetic look to Chris.
"Good luck, Joshy." Hannah leaves the door open, descending the stairs. Josh searches the room frantically for escape as footsteps pound towards the room. He eyes the window, moving to make a run to it before Chris grabs his hand.
"We ride together, we die together, bro."
Josh looks down at their locked hands, blushing furiously before shaking his head.
"It's not worth it, Chris."
"It's not gonna be that bad, man."
It was. Beth spent a good fifteen minutes chiding their asses raw, Chris sitting studiously chastised as Josh fidgeted under the weight of her disappointment. He punches Chris in the shoulder afterward when she's done dragging him to the bathroom and shoving his prescriptions into his hands. Chris had laughed through most of it, only tensing up when Beth fixes that angry look at him.
"You wanna stay the night? You could stay two days and then not have to worry about driving down here Friday morning." Josh is straightening up the movies in the display case while Chris sits on the edge of the bed.
Guilt bubbles in Chris' stomach. "I have to help my dad with lawn work tomorrow. But I can drive back after."
He's lying, lying through his ass but honestly he'd much rather disappoint Josh through the phone than in person. Because in person meant seeing that saddened, dull look in Josh's face. It meant Josh nodding and folding his arms across his chest with a level of resignation that pained Chris to the core. As a fragile upcoming junior in high school, he just didn't have the maturity to deal with that kind of look without begging Josh to still be his bro. It was just better to do it over the phone.
That's what Chris tells himself for two days of avoiding Josh like the plague, it's what he tells himself when the weekends start and he has fifteen really, really pissed texts from Josh and five missed calls. There are a couple of texts from Beth and Hannah and some awful, mean ones from Sam but he's with Ashley so he justifies any potential damage with the fact that he's helping a friend.
"I'm glad you came." Ashley whispers, pressed against him as kids from her class dance around the bonfire to shitty pop music. The parents are all inside, sipping wine and laughing at stock market values and housing. Her hair is wavy with flowers woven into it, wearing a light pink dress exposing her bare shoulders that Chris tries not to stare at too long because even though they're friends, Ashley was still hot.
"I was honestly thinking that I'd have to deal with my parents and their questions." Ashley sighs.
"You ever going to tell them?" Chris inquires, sliding a marshmallow on a wire hanger. He sets it into the fire.
Ashley shakes her head, the faint scent of her perfume surrounding them. "If I want to actually see my college fund, no."
"That sucks." Chris mumbles, watching the marshmallow blacken and burn. It slides wetly off the hanger to the ground.
"Sucks that you missed your cute weekend with your boyfriend."
Chris tenses. "We're bros."
"Considering you want to suck his dick I'd say not just bros."
"I'm not that obvious."
Ashley pushes at his arm. "Ah yes, all those stares in the hallway mean nothing. Walking him to class even though yours is on the other end of the school. Buying him snacks. Totally not obvious."
Chris blames the bonfire for the intense heat that creeps along his skin. Ashley giggles beside him, stretching widely as she looks over her shoulder to the house. She nudges him with her elbow, a soft smile on her face.
"When are you going to tell him?"
Josh was already pissed at him. "Never?"
"Coward." But there is no heat in her words. Ashley places a hand on his arm, face full of understanding and she leans her head against his shoulder sighing into the crackling flames that burn before them.
Chris actually checks his phone when he pulls into his driveway, wincing at the massive amount of messages sitting on the screen.
From: Washua (17)
You're a fucking dick.
From: Climbing Trash (2)
Do I even need to tell you how pissed Josh is?
Josh is really bummed, Chris.
Chris slouches down in the seat, phone pressed to his chin as he tries not to grind his teeth. He calls Josh without thinking. It rings and rings and rings.
"This is the voicemail box of Mr. Washington, pay your goddamn taxes, Hilary!" Josh's voice shouts into the receiver. "Leave a message, dicks."
"Um, hey. It's Chris. I should've told you. I'm sorry. Call me back?" Chris mumbles, deleting the message before it saves. He sits in his car a while longer, knocking his forehead against the steering wheel until his dad comes knocking on the window with a concerned look, thick hair tied into a ponytail.
Chris rolls down his window. "I bailed on Josh for a lesbian."
His dad's lips purse, cheeks inflating and Chris knows he's trying not to laugh. "I made macaroni."
"You can laugh, dad."
His dad shakes his head, adjusting his glasses as tears collect in the corners of his eyes. Chris doesn't understand why it's so funny except he does and it would be hilarious if Josh Washington wasn't pissed at him for being a nice guy. He should've just told him. But Chris if Chris is good at anything, it's disappointing people.
Chris forces out a laugh, his dad bursting at the seams with a roaring cackle immediately after. It makes him feel a little better so he actually gets out the car and drags his ass inside as his dad continues laughing loudly.
They eat macaroni over Mr. Robot, the empty space on the couch a prominent reminder that neither acknowledge.
"Go call him."
Chris pauses his spoon midway. "I did."
"Only once?" His dad asks, smirking.
"Stop." Chris blushes, kicking his legs out from under the cushions of the couch. He marches into the kitchen, regretting how perceptive his mom's death made his dad be.
"It's okay to have crushes, Chris." His dad is propped up in the doorway. He's a lot thinner than Chris remembers, a considerable amount of weight gone since he stopped drinking and moping. Chris guessed he realized he still had a son to take care of. Not that Chris needed it. He could take care of himself and his dad.
"It's not a crush, dad." Chris argues, scooping macaroni into the garbage disposal. "Just me being a bad friend."
"It's okay to be a bad friend too. Think about the time Josh left you in a park to mess around with.. who was it? Anyway. Boom. Example."
Chris squints, glancing over his shoulder to his father, who smiles. "Fine. I'll call him. Make him forgive me."
Except it wasn't that easy. It was close to two in the morning when Chris finally gave up calling, every ring met with a block of the voicemail, so he played video games until he fell asleep on the floor.
Chris wakes up in his bed, blankets tucked snugly around him. His room is quiet and dark aside from faint moonlight pressing into the blinds. He fumbles around on the night stand for his glasses, sliding them onto his face. There are no messages when he checks his phone. It's only 4:03. Chris slumps back against his pillow, phone pressed to his lips and he stares at the ceiling.
He hears it then. This slow dragging noise from the hallway. Chris startles, sitting up quickly. He switches on his lamp, light spreading along his bed. The dragging stops in front of his door. Chris stares at it, heart thumping wildly in his chest. A soft rapping comes to the door.
"Dad?" Chris calls out.
No answer. Chris slides out of bed, bare feet hitting the carpet. He searches his room for a weapon, only finding a gundam figurine made of metal. Chris grabs it, cradling it in his hand, as he slowly makes his way to the door. There's tired, heavy breathing coming from the other side.
Another slow pull of a knuckle against his door instead of an answer; sick, wet coughing beating against the door. Chris grips the door knob, turning it slowly. He opens the door. The hallway is dark aside from the figure slumped against the frame. Chris tenses up immediately.
He sees Josh resting heavily against the doorway of his room, mouth ripped up into a row of hungry, sharp teeth, glistening and fresh with blood, dressed in dirtied, red overalls. Chris panics immediately, dropping the figurine to the floor with a crack. He grabs Josh's shoulders, pressing chubby fingers against the side of Josh's face, checking the wound. It looks as though someone took a pair of scissors and wondered how much damage they could do.
Milky white eyes roll up to him, narrowly focusing and Chris flinches back, lungs plummeting into his stomach as Josh straightens with a loud crack of bones. Low clicking comes from his throat, this awful, deep beginning of a growl gurgling inside of Josh's jaw.
Chris stumbles back, legs hitting the front of his bed as Josh moves over to him in slow, purposeful motions. He reaches a hand out to Chris, nails broken and sharp. Chris trips backwards with a yelp, scrambling up on his bed. Fear freezes his limbs when a sharp chattering noise comes from Josh, who cocks his head to the side at an inhuman angle.
Thunder pounds against Chris' ears, his heavy labored wheezing dying against the air as it turns sour. Josh climbs after him, movements jerky and fast and Chris can feel the sharpness of teeth dragging against his skin, can feel nails cutting into his arms and he can't move, can't breathe as Josh presses his face into Chris' throat, mouth open and sharp and-
Chris startles awake, head hitting the underside of his bed frame, controller stuck to his chin. He groans, shuffling out from under the bed. The controller drops with a muffled clack. His heart is still racing in his chest, limbs shaky as he takes in the warmth of room from the sun, filled with light and morning air. Chris grasps the front of his shirt, feeling his arms, his throat for wounds or scars or anything. He finds nothing.
A knock comes to the door and Chris nearly screams. "Breakfast, son. I actually made pancakes."
Chris steadies his breathing. "B-be.. I'll be right down."
Chris searches his room for his phone, finding it on the charger near his bed. He has no missed calls from Josh or texts but there are messages from Ashley. Chris calls Josh immediately, sitting on the floor, knees pressed to his chest.
There's no answer.
Chris forces out a breath, wedging himself into the small space between his nightstand and the bed. He tries to calm down, tries to forget the image burning into his mind. Chris calls again.
There's still no answer so Chris calls and calls, listening to Josh's voicemail; listens to the normal, human voice until his dad knocks on the door again.
Josh doesn't call back.